Even as televisions running on the older, analogue signals turned dark yesterday, residents of Chennai heaved a sigh of relief. The Madras High Court extended the deadline for cable TV digitisation to November 5 from October 31. Simply put, Chennai residents have five more days to switch to digital signals, reports The Hindu.

Johnson D Kennedy, the president of the Chennai Metro Cable TV Operators’ Association, had filed a writ petition, based on which Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar passed the interim order. The issue was kept on hold till November 5 awaiting a reply from the Centre as well as to procure the required records. 

No more deadline extensions

A breather for Chennai (Image Credit: Getty Images)

According to Kennedy, the deadline had been extended on two occasions since the regulation to implement the Digital Addressable System (DAS) had come into effect. He cited the unavailability of set top boxes (STBs) as the reason for Chennai missing the deadline — an issue that had been reported in the past too.

In June this year, a Times of India report had confirmed that in Chennai, stakeholders  such as the government-run Arasu Cable TV Corporation and Sun TV Network's Sumangali Cable Vision were not fully ready to meet the July 1 deadline, the previous deadline.  The Information and Broadcasting ministry too hinted that chances were that it may extend the deadline on a city-to-city basis, if need be. 

In June, Chennai and Kolkata were far the position required for them to reach the stipulated deadline.  In Chennai, only 12.5 percent of the total subscribers had STBs. Quoting P Sakilan, the president of the operators' association, the report adds, “It is highly impossible to launch digital network in Chennai before July”. Sakilan stated that even if the operators were to provide the  STBs for free to the viewers, it would take four months to import them, test-run them, and deliver them to 40 lakh viewers in Chennai. 

The operators’ association had briefed the Information and Broadcasting ministry about the unavailability of STBs.The association said the government had made a false claim that 90 percent of Chennai’s households had STBs. “There were roughly 40 lakh households in Chennai DAS area out of a population of 1.20 crore. Of this, only 1.64 lakh homes had STBs. Therefore, the Association sought the deferment of DAS implementation,” the report shares further. 

The association requested the HC to stop the Centre from offering 100 percent DAS in Chennai till more STBs were made available by multiple system operators (MSOs). It sought a deadline extension for the implementation of DAS.

Sakilan added that the biggest challenge for operators lay in convincing the masses to pay up amounts to the tune of Rs 1,000 or Rs 1,500 for the STBs. Out of 40 lakh viewers in Chennai, roughly 25 lakh belong to the middle and lower class, who would find it beyond their means. 

Cable operators across Mumbai and Delhi have moved court seeking an extension of the deadline. According to the report published by the Hindu, “An Edelweiss report said that Chennai and Kolkata are likely to miss the deadline and that the respective governments have sought for a deadline extension”.

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